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Are Apartment Complexes Liable if Tenants or Visitors Slip on Ice?

Whether you’re driving or walking, getting around in Oklahoma becomes a little more dangerous during the winter. Although our state doesn’t get many days below freezing, there’s always a slight risk of snowfall and ice accumulation between the months of December and March. Snow and ice make roads, parking lots, and sidewalks slick, increasing your chances of suffering a fall resulting in a serious injury, especially if you’re unprepared for it.

You’re responsible for clearing ice and snow on your own sidewalk or driveway, but what happens if you live in an apartment complex where dozens or even hundreds of other people live, and you have to traverse a dangerously iced-over parking area or sidewalk to get to and from home? Are you allowed to sue the building owner or manager if you slip and fall on ice that wasn’t cleared?

Here’s what Oklahoma law has to say about this common issue.

Oklahoma Law Says Landlords Typically Aren’t Liable for Ice- and Snow-Related Falls

According to Oklahoma law, ice and snowfall naturally accumulate regardless of the will or actions of a landlord or property manager. That means the courts’ stance is that it’s generally unreasonable to hold landlords legally accountable if someone slips and falls on ice or snow outside their buildings, even if the victim had to traverse slippery common areas to enter their residences.

And while many landlords and property managers do take measures such as salting, shoveling, and plowing, they aren’t legally required to do so. Instead, residents are expected to handle the adverse weather conditions as best they can, just as they’re required to remove ice and snow from their vehicles’ windows and roofs before driving.

Negligent Property Management Can Change Landlords’ Liability

Oklahoma’s natural accumulation law only applies when a property is otherwise in good and safe condition for visitors. However, it may not apply when snow and ice accumulation become excessively dangerous beyond what’s natural and out of the landlord’s control.

For example, a landlord or property manager may be held liable for a slip-and-fall injury if clogged gutters or faulty drainage cause water to excessively pool and freeze on a sidewalk or entryway used by residents. They also may be held liable if an accumulation of snow or ice hides other known trip hazards, such as drainage grates, cables, or building materials.

In some cases, landlords can even be held liable when they do attempt to mitigate dangers caused by ice or snow but instead create new problems by doing it poorly. An example of this could include shoveling snow off of a paved driveway into a ditch and visually hiding the ditch from drivers who may inadvertently steer into it, not realizing it’s there.

Finally, landlords or property managers can be held liable if an accumulation of ice or snow worsens an already dangerous situation for pedestrians or residents. For example, an already broken staircase loaded with snow may collapse under the weight of a pedestrian or resident.

Landlords Are Required to Address Indoor Hazards Related to Snow and Ice

When snow and ice accumulate outdoors, they also have a tendency to make their way indoors and melt, creating a slip hazard. With dozens or hundreds of people coming and going from apartment complexes in Oklahoma every day, big chunks of ice and snow get tracked in by residents and visitors. These chunks can quickly melt and turn into puddles, especially near doorways.

While landlords can’t be expected to address every danger associated with the natural accumulation of ice and snow outdoors, they can be expected to address the issues associated with the puddling of melted ice and snow indoors. Whether it’s immediately mopping up pooled water, laying down floor mats, or placing wet floor signs, landlords must address the danger or notify residents and visitors of the danger while they create a plan to address it.

How to Document a Slip-and-Fall Accident

Slips and falls happen unexpectedly and can leave you feeling shocked and disoriented, especially if you are injured. However, the steps you take immediately afterwards can significantly impact your claim for damages. Proper documentation of the incident and gathering evidence are crucial for supporting your case. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Seek Medical Attention
    Your health is your priority. Even if you feel fine, some injuries may not be immediately apparent. Not only should a doctor assess your condition, the medical records created from your visit will be needed to serve as a piece of evidence linking your injuries directly to the accident.
  2. Take Photos and Videos
    Use your smartphone to take pictures and videos of the scene, including what caused you to fall, the surrounding area, and any visible injuries you sustained. Photographic evidence can capture conditions that words don’t fully convey.
  3. Witness Information
    If anyone witnessed the accident, ask for their names and contact information. Witness statements can corroborate your account of the incident and provide additional perspectives on what happened.
  4. Preserve Physical Evidence
    If possible, preserve any physical evidence related to the fall. For example, if a torn carpet or a broken handrail contributed to the accident, capturing these details can be invaluable.
  5. Report the Accident
    Notify the property owner or manager about the accident as soon as possible, and request an accident report, keeping a copy for your records.
  6. Keep a Detailed Account
    As soon as you can, write down everything you remember about the accident, including the date and time, weather conditions, and any circumstances you believe contributed to the fall. Your memory will be freshest immediately following the incident, so this step is vital.
  7. Track Your Injury and Recovery
    Maintain a detailed log of your injury, medical treatments, and how the injury affects your daily life and work. Include doctor visits, physical therapy, medications, and any pain or discomfort you experience. This documentation will help illustrate the extent of your injury and its impact on your quality of life.

Before proceeding with a claim, consult with an experienced slip-and-fall lawyer in Oklahoma. An attorney can provide valuable guidance on how to navigate your claim, deal with insurance companies, and ensure that your rights are protected. They can also help in gathering additional evidence and crafting a compelling case on your behalf.

Contact Us After a Slip-and-Fall Injury

Slip-and-fall injuries are often painful and can even be temporarily disabling when they result in broken legs, hips, or back injuries. They’re also legally challenging, as property owners and their insurers have many arguments to fall back on to say they’re not at fault for residents’ and visitors’ injuries. When they do decide to give victims compensation, they usually offer lowball settlements that barely cover the ambulance ride to the hospital, let alone victims’ full medical bills and lost wages.

At Parrish DeVaughn Injury Lawyers, we’ve seen firsthand how devastating slip-and-fall injuries can be. If you or someone you love slipped and fell due to ice, snow, water, broken steps, hidden hazards, or any other danger, we want to help. Contact our Oklahoma premises liability lawyers today for a free consultation.

Originally published December 19, 2022.